By JOHN SHINN
DALLAS — Eight minutes into Oklahoma’s season opener nothing was going right. Shots wouldn’t fall and Alabama was getting layups whenever it wanted Friday at American Airlines Center. Despite a 16-point deficit, there was no panic.
“I didn’t know we were so down that much. I looked at the scoreboard and I was like, ‘Wow, we need to pick it up,’” OU guard Buddy Hield said.
The Sooners did in an 82-73 victory over Alabama.
It was simply a matter of staying calm when things were not going well. Despite the plethora of turnovers, bad shots and layups allowed by OU in the opening minutes, OU coach Lon Kruger let his team continue to play. He never called a timeout during the stretch.
“Early in the season you need guys on the floor to step up and kind of shore it up a little. They did OK with that. We took the timeouts when they came, we didn’t call any,” Kruger said. “But I thought the conversation among themselves was pretty good.”
Hield ended up scoring a team-high 19 points and sophomore forward Ryan Spangler poured in 15 to go along with 12 rebounds. Those two were the ringleaders, but there was another addition to the lineup that proved invaluable Friday.
Freshman point guard Jordan Woodard scored 10 points and added a game-high seven assists in a team-high 34 minutes on the floor.
Woodard was only 2 of 11 from the field, but he made his way to the free-throw line three times, converting those six free throws into five points.
“He did a good job,” Kruger said of Woodard. “Every game for a while is going to be a learning experience for him in a very positive way. He’s a terrific young player. His ability to attack late and get to the free throw line was really big. We’ll lean on that a lot throughout the year.”
Breaks like the ones the Sooners received Friday won’t like be as plentiful either. They got a huge one in the first half with Alabama point guard Trevor Releford — the Crimson Tide’s best player — picking up three fouls in the first 11 minutes.
The foul problems limited him to just 22 minutes on the floor. The Sooners trailed by eight when he left the floor in the first half. By halftime the deficit was just a point.
The lead seesawed until Hield drilled a 3-pointer with 14 minutes to go, giving OU the lead for good.
Cameron Clark added 14 points and guard Je’lon Hornbeak finished with eight off the bench.
Alabama’s Algie Key led all scorers with 20 points. Retin Obasohan added 14 and Releford tossed in 12.
The Crimson Tide shot 47.5 percent (29 for 61) from the field, but were just 3 of 15 from 3-point distance.
OU shot 44.4 percent 28 for 63, but seven of its makes came from beyond the arc.
The biggest surprise of the night was that the outsized Sooners managed to outrebound Alabama. Spangler’s double-double effort was the difference.
“That’s one of the biggest goals for me,” he said. “That helps the team in the little ways just to win a ballgame you know, playing defense, rebounding, diving after loose balls, I think that’s what wins the games.”
It was the right formula Friday. It just took the Sooners about eight minutes to find it.